THE first areas in rural Scotland to get superfast broadband under a £146 million project have been announced amid concern that people are leaving communities because of slow internet speeds.

More than 16,000 homes and businesses on the outskirts of Inverness, the Black Isle and along the coast into Moray will be the first to benefit.

Ardersier, Buckie, Milton of Leys, Fortrose, Hopeman, Inverness Culloden, Lhanbryde and Lossiemouth will be able to access fibre broadband services from early next year.

The current commercial roll-out across the UK would have reached just 21% of premises in the Highlands and Islands, but with £126.4m of public investment and an additional £19.4m from BT, the new target is 84%.

Stuart Robertson, digital director for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which is investing £12m, said the new pledge represented a "significant step change".

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead, who last week told MSPs that there was evidence that a lack of digital connectivity was contributing to depopulation in rural areas, said the investment would be "critical in ensuring the long-term economic prosperity of the Highlands and Islands".

The new Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael, said: "Broadband is vital for jobs, services and the economy in the Highlands and Islands so I'm pleased to see this investment in rural broadband in Scotland is starting to come to fruition."